Classification: Blend of Straight Whiskeys
Company: Diageo/T.H.L Whiskey Co.
Released: April 2016 / Ongoing
The Hilhaven Lodge whiskey is a collaboration between Diageo and Hollywood director and current owner of The Hilhaven Lodge, Brett Ratner. The whiskey is a blend of a bourbon from the 2000’s, a Tennessee Whiskey from the 1990’s, and a rye whiskey from the 1980’s. It is hand-bottled at the historic Stitzel-Weller distillery. The initial rollout will be in California and Florida, and later expanding to DE, HI, IA, IL, KS, LA, MA, MN, MO, MT, NC, NE, NH, NV, NM, NJ, NY, SD, TX, VT, WI.
Light but also chipper thanks to a nice balance of its fruit notes. The citrusy and sweet scents are enjoyable, yet on the weak side, which is most likely due to the whiskey’s low proof. Caramel and vanilla provide a sturdy foundation that at times overpower additional scents of gingerbread, honey, and candied dark fruits. Not overly complex, but likable enough to make you forget that it isn’t.
It can be quite the whirlwind tasting experience for this light whiskey, which hides under a veil of such a low proof. The flavors don’t have much weight to them yet seemingly come at you all at once, fighting for your attention. Light fruit notes are compounded with a mishmash of caramel, vanilla, toffee, clove, leather, spice, and oak that don’t quite congeal into an easily understandable and refined package. None of it is bad per say, but far from a home run.
A spicy, rye-forward kick opens that ends on a oaky semi-dry finish. The transition from the beginning of the finish to the end is an enjoyable switcheroo. This blend of whiskeys creates an interesting metamorphosis of flavor on its finish, one that goes to show how interesting blends can be, yet ultimately shoots itself in its own foot with its lack of punch due to its low proof.
Blending is nothing new for whiskey, but an emerging trend of American whiskey blends from high-profile celebrities is. It’s doubtful if these celebrities have much to do with the actual sourcing, blending, and fine tuning of their whiskey’s flavor profile, but their clout brings an additional layer of awareness to their brand. It’s easy to look at these new products as cash-ins on a popular spirit category or sub-par in quality since their name isn’t generally associated with whiskey making, but it’s never safe to judge a book by its cover.
It’s an interesting choice for a blend to include three different types of whiskeys from three different decades. At first the whiskey does come across as having a unique taste thanks to the amount of different flavors hitting you all at once. The blend doesn’t taste overly young or old, nor overly cheap or expensive. There are few peaks and valleys in its flavor profile since all of the flavors hit with the same intensity. It’s only after tasting it a few times that this uniqueness begins to wear off along with your general interest.
Determining if a whiskey is a good value depends on what type of whiskey drinker you are. This seems to be true for this whiskey more than most. Diehards will balk at its $50 MSRP because of its 80 proof point and lack of information on its whiskeys’ origins, exact ages and percentages in the blend. It’s feasible that collectors will gladly shell out $50 for its stylish bottle, high-profile celebrity association, and its intriguing blend of three different types of whiskeys. Casual drinkers will likely see this whiskey as an enchanting curiosity, a step up from their normal go-to whiskeys and a potential shelf trophy to their growing collection. With many limited edition, high profile and ornate-looking bottles hitting the market over the past few years, The Hilhaven Lodge’s $50 MSRP is well within market acceptability. The price is probably going to be too high for most, mainly because of its proof, but there might be just enough going on with this blend to make some whiskey drinkers satisfied with their purchase.
A low proof and light flavor profile will be a turnoff for many, while others may find satisfaction in its drinkability and stylish bottle.
It’s easy to overlook this whiskey thanks to its low proof and lack of information on its origins and exact age of whiskeys used. This whiskey is meant to be easily sipped and enjoyed with a flavor profile that brings a bit more to the table than what you would find in an everyday shelf whiskey. It’s not overly complex or challenging, but soft enough thanks to its proof that almost anyone can enjoy sipping it neat. A better plan would have been to release the whiskey at a higher proof to win over diehards and allow casual drinkers the opportunity to drink it with a cube or two (as is, don’t dare putting ice or water in this one). There are definitely more complex and flavorful whiskeys on the market for less, but The Hilhaven Lodge is betting on style, a bit of substance, and a pretty package to win over the masses. It seems clear the makers of this whiskey were striving to create the ultimate sipping whiskey and maybe that’s a fool’s errand, but for some, they might have succeeded.
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of Brett Ratner and T.H.L. Whiskey Co. We thank them for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.